On Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. and his dedication to equality in the United States. Ironically, the holiday fell just a few days after the second year of all-white Oscar nominations were announced.
Several actors used MLK day to remind the world and the Academy of the importance of his work and why the lack of diversity in the Oscars and in the entertainment industry should be a top priority that needs fixing right now.
David Oyelowo—who was overlooked at last year's Oscars after playing MLK in Selma—spoke out about the issue at the King Legacy Awards on Monday night, where Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs was being honored.
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"A year ago, I did a film called Selma, and after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then," he recalled. "We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable."
He went on to explain the importance of being recognized at the Oscars for all artists, no matter their race or gender: "The reason why the Oscars are so important is because it is the zenith, it is the epitome, it is the height of celebration of artistic endeavor within the filmmaking community. We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence. I would like to walk away and say it doesn't matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in."
Thus, he encouraged the audience and the Academy to make a step toward change immediately. "The Oscars is on February 28," he explained, "Cheryl needs us to pray that by that date, change is going to come. We need to pray for Cheryl, we need to support Cheryl, we need to love Cheryl. We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get negative. But we must make our voice heard."
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In similar respects, Idris Elba—who missed out on an Oscar nomination this year for his role in Beasts of No Nation—addressed the diversity issue not only in the Academy and in the U.S., but also in Britain's entertainment industry.
The BBC reports the London-native spoke out before a British group of Parliament members on Monday night to discuss the lack of multicultural people on-screen.
"We need to counter what everybody has, see the lay of the land and see who has which careers in TV—who makes TV, and who is allowed on TV and when they get the opportunity which roles do they play, on and off screen," Elba proposed. "You have to ask the question: are black people normally playing petty criminals? Are women always the love interest or talking about men? Are gay people always stereotyped? Are disabled people ever seen at all?"
The Luther actor went on to explain that he decided to travel to America because of its famous diversity policy that lies in the American Dream. However, he said the problem exists in "the gap between the dream and reality."
"Now the gap is what Martin Luther King set out to fill in his dream. To champion diversity is to champion the American dream," he said.
The lack of diversity at the 2016 Oscars has sparked quite a bit of controversy, resurfacing 2015's famous #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and even resulting in some people (like Jada Pinkett-Smith) boycotting the show.
Isaacs addressed the issue in a statement on Monday night saying, "While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it's time for big changes."
She continued, "The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond."